Can new weather-tech boost African crops?

Weather forecasting is key to sustainable agriculture in Africa. And climate change is further increasing that dependency.

Weather forecasting is key to sustainable agriculture in Africa. And climate change is further increasing that dependency. 

  • But so far African forecasting has been flawed. It is failing farmers ever more as weather patterns become jumbled. 

Why is that: Meteorological models used in forecasting were developed in the Global North. They’re not fit for purpose in sub-Saharan Africa. 

  • American and European weather patterns are driven by large-scale temperature and pressure changes.

  • But in tropical Africa, weather develops on a smaller scale and much more rapidly. 

What to do: African monitoring must become more granular to be accurate. 

  • Unlike Global North forecast, it cannot rely on monitoring of 50km grids.

  • This misses small changes and causes inaccurate predictions. 

New products: Weather-tech startups are trying to solve for this, including with AI. 

  • Ignitia or collect super localised data, using remote sensing technologies as well as satellites. 

  • These are turned into actionable forecasts for farmers.

  • Other players in this space are CropMon, MaliCrop and Kukua.

Proven impact: Experts say that accurate forecasts can make the difference between the success and failure of crops.

Yield curve: Industry insiders this week met in Nairobi at the Agrifin event to compare digital solutions. 

  • Ignitia said its new models for the tropics increase accuracy from 39% to at least 84%.

  • claimed crop yield improve by 10% to 300%.

Why it matters: African agriculture has a massive social and economic footprint.

  • More than 60% of sub-Saharan Africans are smallholder farmers.

  • About 23% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP comes from agriculture. 

The impact: As weather patterns become less favourable, crop and livestock yields generally fall. 

  • For many African crops, a few more degrees difference drastically increases vulnerability.  

  • A 2020 Mckinsey study predicts potentially severe crop failures. 

Biggest vulnerability: Rainwater changes are especially painful in Africa. Livestock and crops are 95% rainfed and insurance is almost non-existent.

Better protection: If weather forecasting is to help African farmers to adapt, the continent needs

  • Better monitoring infrastructure, including ground stations to feed new models

  • Adequate communication systems for rapid data exchanges

  • More qualified meteorological staff to run both

Official help: Governments will need to lean in or change. 

  • In Mali and Sierra Leone, meteorological agencies are monopolies and oppose private involvement. 

Reality check: It comes down to money. Investment in the sector is low. 

  • Meteorological services in Africa have on average 25% less cash than elsewhere in the world.